Faster EV Charging Strengthens the Business Case for Fleets
One obstacle standing between electric vehicles (EVs) and the commercial market is the length of time it takes to recharge the battery. However, EV charging times have been steadily shrinking as the technology improves, and a new chip from the firm Navitas Semiconductor could kick the fast-charging trend into high gear.
EV charging and the disappearing gas station
Charging time is not an issue for fleets that can park when not in use at privately-owned garages, lots and depots. The time issue mainly applies to fleets that need to rely on public charging stations. A long EV charging time can easily add an unwelcome layer of complexity onto scheduling and route planning.
Fortunately, concern over access to public charging station is beginning to fade. Improvements in battery range enable new EVs to stay on the road longer without recharging, and today’s electric vehicles can charge faster. A sharp, ongoing increase in the number of public charging stations also makes it easier for fleet vehicles to recharge on-the-go.
In fact, public EV charging stations are rapidly becoming more available than gas stations. That is especially evident in urban areas, where “gas deserts” are occurring as real estate trends push local pumping stations out of city centers.
Analysts at The Rocky Mountain Institute argue that the gasoline gap can be can be filled by EV charging stations. They suggest that automakers, ride-hailing companies and other electric vehicle stakeholders work to ensure that charging stations are built in urban low-income communities.
Consolidation in the gas stations sector has also had an impact on gas availability outside of cities, forcing drivers to travel farther in search of fuel. As the 20th century drew to a close there were about 200,000 gas stations in the U.S. Now there are only 150,000, many of which are co-located with convenience stores.
The co-location strategy has been a lifeline for the remaining gas stations, but it requires more land, limiting site selection for new locations.
In addition, the convenience factor is not exclusive to gas stations. EV charging creates many more opportunities for adding convenience to daily routines. For example, Ikea was an early adopter of EV charging for shoppers, and the U.S. Department of Energy has been working with numerous corporations to add workplace charging stations. Drivers with home charging stations can also enjoy the convenience, comfort and safety of refueling at home, rather than detouring to a gas station.
The rise of EV fast-charging
Corporations seeking to burnish their sustainability credentials are especially interested in growing the nationwide EV charging network. From a logistics and operational point of view, the only remaining obstacle is charging time. Despite recent improvements in fast-charging technology, there is still a wide gap between the time it takes to recharge EV batteries when compared to filling up a gas tank.
That is about to change with a new generation of technology improvements. One example is Navitas Semiconductor. The company recently introduced a new iteration of its power-integrated circuit used in mobile charging, from hand-held devices to electric vehicles.
Navitas is marketing the award-winning chip under the name GaNFast. Instead of the conventional silicon-based formula, GaNFast is based on gallium nitride, a crystalline material known for superior switching speed and conductivity performance.
“GaNFast integrated power ICs use next-generation GaN to replace legacy silicon chips and enable up to 3x faster charging and 3x more power in half the size and weight for mobile fast chargers, consumer electronics, solar inverters, data centers and electric vehicles,” Navitas states.
A companion technology, GaNSense, is designed to build even more efficiency into the fast-charging system.
From smart phones to electric vehicles
Though the impact on charging times for electric vehicles has yet to be demonstrated, Navitas has documented the performance of the GaN platform on small handheld devices. The company claims that its “ultrafast” charger using GaNSense can take a smartphone with a powerful 4,500 mAhr battery from zero to 100 percent charged in just 17 minutes.
Meanwhile, it looks like fleet managers will soon be able to trim their calculations for charging times at public EV charging stations.
Tesla has been grabbing media attention with its “Supercharger” network of fast-charging stations, but activity has also been bubbling up outside of the spotlight.
In one especially interesting development that has an impact on EV charging times, the Department of Energy notes that the level of power available at DC fast-charging ports has increased dramatically. Earlier DC (direct current) ports were capped at 50 kilowatts. Now they routinely exceed that mark, which some reaching as high as 350 kilowatts in the U.S.
Legacy engineering firms are also contributing to the trend. The global company ABB, for example, is behind the increase in 350-kilowatt charging stations in the U.S., and it recently launched its “Terra 360” charging station with 360 kilowatts of power.
ABB introduced the new EV charging station in Europe and reportedly plans on bringing it to the U.S., so the Department of Energy may have to revise its DC charging port figures again.
According to ABB, the new charging station can provide up to four electric vehicles with a full charge in less than 15 minutes.
For those topping off a battery, the charging time is even more attractive. ABB claims that the new station will add 100 kilometers of travel (about 62 miles) in less than three minutes of charging.
The new station is designed for commercial fleets as well as workplace or customer charging.
As gas stations continue to disappear, fleet managers have all the more incentive to begin planning their operations around electric vehicles and charging stations.
Image credit: Michael Fousert via Unsplash